• August 12, 2010
  • By Glen Manchester, founder and chief executive officer, Thunderhead

Multichannel Is Not Enough: 6 Steps to Engaging Customer Communications

In competitive times, increasing revenue through customer retention and maximizing cross-sell and upsell opportunities is an important objective for marketing, sales and line-of-business teams. These teams are, in addition, under constant pressure to find better ways to connect and communicate with each customer on a personal level.

Improving the performance of existing customer touchpoints is challenging enough. Now organizations must develop strategies to address social media, mobile communications and markedly heterogeneous consumer cultures.

Adapting the business to meet increasingly complex range of communication needs is, however, only half the story. The "dirty secret" of multichannel communications is that, without context, the immediacy and relevance of dynamic communications is lost. As you use CRM to increase the level of personalization in customer communications, you risk losing customer confidence if it is not done right.

"The right information, in the right place, at the right time."

It's a time-worn adage, even a cliché, but it remains a promise that is hard to deliver on.

To maintain context, it's not enough to manage a single customer view of enterprise data. It's also necessary to maintain a single customer view across all communication channels and, importantly, communication history. This holistic view of the customer — and his or her interactions — is key to any effective CRM strategy. It has major implications for the way communications are developed and managed across the enterprise.

A decade of customer-centric thinking and best practice has not had the impact we might have expected on the quality of customer communications. Looking around at the state of play in CRM, it's obvious that there is a big gap between the potential offered by the sophisticated technology available for CRM, marketing automation and analytics, and the actual ability of enterprises to convert "customer intelligence" into meaningful communications.

Furthermore, as communications move more toward being conversations, context becomes critically important. The theme of "customer conversations" has been talked about for some years, but the immediacy that characterizes digital touch points, such as mobile and social media, demands a conversation. So does the shift in the balance of power, away from marketing toward the customer, whose attention must be earned through conversation.

Cause for despair, or an opportunity to really engage with your customers?

With the right approach, organizations can transform their customer communications. Getting started requires insight into two key problems:

  • The inability of organizations to address the complexity and variety in the customer environment. Maintaining highly personalized contextual communications across a broad range of channels (think everything from paper to social media) and siloed systems is a difficult problem, given that the organization must also maintain control at an enterprise level (think regulated industries where producing compliant content is critical).
  • An over-emphasis on analytics, segmentation and transactional data at the expense of "knowing the customer" and the "customer journey."

The solution lies in dealing with these two problems.

Six steps to engaging customer communications

  1. Make data on the customer journey your top priority. Acquire the capability to store and analyze customer interactions across all touch-points for the whole enterprise -- not just marketing, but in the call center, customer service, sales, business units and through Web portals. Use this information to shape interactions and build context. This is not to say that you shouldn't be taking advantage of the powerful segmentation and analytics tools available today -- but use this information to inform rather than control interactions.
  2. Move control and responsibility for customer interactions to front-line business users. Decentralize as much as possible -- but maintain central control of enterprise concerns: regulated content, compliance, brand protection and integrity controls. Put line-of-business users in control of templates, content and rules that drive customer communications -- and remove your technology specialists from of the loop. Look for technology solutions that will support this approach.
  3. Find tools that enable separation of presentation from content, and that support appropriately crafted communications to any channel from one source. Interest in Content Component Management (aka "intelligent content") is growing, with XML becoming the preferred technology for content reuse.
  4. Build agility and immediacy by integrating communications with business processes.
  5. Work on breaking down silos within your organization. Develop a customer-centric focus that spans the enterprise and encompasses all aspects of the customer journey.
  6. Be realistic in your plans. Look for the capability to support an incremental approach: one that will support what you need today, but will allow you to add new and emerging communication channels when you're ready.

With the right approach, customer engagement can be transformed -- with contextual communications based on highly personalized and relevant content using the customers' preferred channels. Technology is a key part of the solution -- but so is understanding the importance of moving control of communications to the business users at the front line of your organization.

About the Author

Glen Manchester (gmanchester@thunderhead.com) is founder and chief executive officer of Thunderhead, which has been recognized by Forrester Research, Deloitte, and others as a market leader in customer communications management and document automation. Manchester established the company in 2001, bringing together a team of experienced industry professionals to build a new class of enterprise solution for generating customer communications. The Thunderhead NOW platform was launched in 2003.


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For the rest of the July 2010 issue of CRM magazine — which examines the past 15 years in the CRM industry — please click here.

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